Brainstorming is Making You Dumb
Nearly all of us at some time have been called into a group meeting to brainstorm solutions to some conundrum.
The word apparently dates from around the mid 1800s where it meant to have a brilliant and exciting idea. One notable aspect of this original definition is that it was something that happened to an individual, often working alone.
As a group activity the term was popularised by Alex Osborn in the 1953 book Applied Imagination.
It is an attractive idea. Two heads are better than one and more heads even better. If we introduce some rules to prevent people being argued with and shut down we'll generate a whole bunch of better thoughts and can choose from the best. How can it fail?
Dating from the 1950s one can assume that the burgeoning industrial era lead to the notion that creativity too can be made to order.
It is an attractive idea that does not work.
To study all the reasons for this would take years. In essence, humans behave differently when in groups, and our thoughts and actions are affected by the need for social conformity or social position. It seems that these changes are not beneficial to creativity in groups.
In recent times there are a few excellent examples of creative geniuses to study, Steve Jobs comes to mind. What I notice about him is his reputation for not functioning well as part of a group, and for breaking with conventional group dynamics.
Keith Sawyer, a psychologist at Washington University, has summarized the science: “Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.” [quoted from the article linked below].
Yet we persist in doing groupthink.
Brainstorming, "teams that all get along with no dissent", and powerpoint presentations (yes really), have all been shown to be ultimately damaging to performance and success.
Yet if you work in an office for a large organisation there's every chance that within a few weeks you'll attend a brainstorming session, facilitated with powerpoint slides and be encouraged to "all get along" in the pusuit of a solution of some kind.
Will you have the courage to say "lets not do this, it does not work"?